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Boire du petit lait and other French drinking phrases

With a university in Lille offering a new master’s course in gastronomy, we look at three French expressions related to drinking

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

A Lille university is offering an unusual new master’s degree - in gastronomy.

Entitled boire, manger, vivre (‘drink, eat, live’), 70 students at the city’s Sciences Po university applied for the first course - although its announcement was reportedly first met with a ‘general burst of laughter’ according to economics lecturer Benoît Lengaigne.

The programme offers the chance to explore environmental challenges, international relations and societal issues from a gastronomical angle.

Research topics also include stakeholder theory, corporate and social responsibility, with dissertation projects ranging from overfishing to food security in the European Union.

We look at three French expressions related to drinking:

Boire du petit-lait (literally ‘to drink whey’):

This expression means to be satisfied or to enjoy something.

Petit-lait, or ‘whey’, is the liquid that remains after milk has been curdled and strained to make cheese. Nowadays, it is often flavoured, giving it a sweet and fresh taste.

The expression likely derives from the 18th-century expression avaler doux comme lait (literally ‘to swallow sweet as milk’), which alluded to the satisfaction babies experience when they drink their mother’s milk.

It became boire du lait (‘to drink milk’) and addition of the word petit (‘little’) came sometime in the 20th century, perhaps to reinforce the idea of sweetness. 

Boire un canon (literally ‘to drink a canon):

To ‘drink a cannon is to drink a glass of alcohol, usually red wine.

The expression has its origins in the 16th century, when a canon was a unit of measurement used for alcohols. One canon was the equivalent of 60ml and wine was drunk from a small glass that had this exact capacity.

However, the expression did not become popular until the 19th century.

Il y a à boire et à manger (literally ‘there is something to drink and something to eat’):

This expression means that there is good and bad in something.

The contrast of drinking and eating represents the juxtaposition between the good and bad. When it is said that there is something to both eat and drink in a particular situation, it therefore means that there are two opposite aspects to it - both positive and negative aspects of it.

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